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Biomechanical comparison between Reverse Hyperextension and Back Extension

by P. Debraux | 7 May 2019

biomechanics, fitness, sport, resistance, training, workout, science, reverse hyper, posterior chain, extension, back, hamstrings, erector spinae

For the lower body, the work of the posterior chain is of great importance, both for athletic performance (running acceleration, for example) and for injury prevention and rehabilitation (lower back pain, strength deficit, etc.). In resistance training, several exercises can strengthen this area with greater or lesser efficiency ( read one of our articles on the subject).

Invented by Louie Simmons (Westside Barbell) following a vertebral fracture, the Reverse Hyperextension (RHE) (Fig. 1) aims to target the hip extensors (gluteus maximus and hamstrings) and the erector spinae by keeping the upper body immobile, and according to Louie Simmons, decompression of the bottom of the spine. Conversely, the back extension (Fig. 2) allows to work the same muscle groups but this time having the lower body immobile. The RHE has become the must-have for the posterior chain for some years, yet no study has looked at this exercise and its effects on the body compared to conventional back extension. Does this exercise keep its promises ?

Reverse Hyperextension

Figure 1. Reverse Hyperextension (RHE).

Back Extension

Figure 2. Back Extension (BE).

The Study

To answer this question, a team of American researchers compared the RHE and the Back extension (BE) in terms of muscular activity, range of motion and lower back extension moment. For this, the researchers recruited 20 recreational sports participants (10 women and 10 men), 8 of whom had experience with the RHE. The protocol consisted of performing 2 sets of 10 repetitions on each exercise in random order. The loads were similar for both exercises. At the BE, the participants held a 20kg disc against their chest. Thus, the addition of upper body mass and disc mass to the BE matched the lower body weight and the additional RHE load.

To analyze the muscular activity during the two exercises, the surface myoelectric activity (EMG) of the gluteus maximus, biceps femoris and erector spinae was analyzed. Reflective markers were also placed on the body of the participants to allow the analysis of the movement in 3 dimensions, and thus to determine the ranges of motion between the trunk and the thighs and between the trunk and the pelvis, and the lower back extension moment (that is, the force applied in rotation to create the hip extension).

Results & Analyzes

The main results of this study show that with a similar load, the RHE and the BE allow comparable muscular activation to the muscles studied. We can also note a higher activation for the biceps femoris and the gluteus maximus with the BE when integrated EMG is taken into account (value that allows to integrate the activation duration of a muscle).

It is the RHE that allows a greater the lower back extension moment (-2.64 ± 0.42 N·m/kg), which is explained by a greater lever arm (here, the lower limbs) in comparison to BE (-1.48 ± 0.12 N·m/kg). This greater moment of extension brings no more muscular activations. This is probably caused by the momentum provided by the RHE pendulum (see the video below), which negates the need to generate greater force.

Concerning the range of motion, the RHE allows a greater range of movement between the trunk and thigh compared to BE (+10.9°). In addition, the RHE results in lower lumbar flexion than the BE (20.4° vs. 31.1°). Which is, in the absolute, better to prevent any problem in the lower back. The RHE thus stimulates the muscles in the same way while offering a greater range of movement in the hips and reducing it to the lumbar level.

Practical Applications

The Reverse Hyperextension is an effective exercise compared to the Back Extension in terms of muscular activity. The main difference to remember is probably at the level of range of motion : the Reverse Hyper can reduce lumbar flexion while increasing the range of motion in the hip. It should be kept in mind that during this study, the researchers equalized the loads between the two exercises. However, because of the momentum in the RHE, it would probably be more interesting to charge more on this exercise. Louie Simmons generally recommends loading a value equivalent to 50% of the load used during your squat sets.


  1. Lawrence MA, Chin A and Swanson BT. Biomechanical comparison of the reverse hyperextension machine and the hyperextension exercise. J Strength Cond Res Article in Press, 2019.

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